The Ink Chase
A Serial in eight parts
Previous Episode 1 2
Next day at the office it was back to backbreaking paperwork, overseeing of the harbor construction by the prisoner chain-gangs; a visit to the Panopticon—a 100-eyed monster watchtower designed for gaining supremacy of mind over mind, in a measure so far without compare. It grimly surveyed prisoners immured in bleak and comfortless structures – a vast mill for grinding rogues authentic. There were no demons here—no inky phantoms of the night—just plain, brutal humans crushing free will and dignity.
“Salaam, Governor Barry sahib,” Radhe, the stick orderly saluted, smartly catching the white toupee I tossed at him.
“Salaam. Nimbu paani—chilled,” I ordered, inserting a finger in my starch collar and prying it away from my sticky, perspiring neck. I was thankful to be back in the cool of the khus-tutty’s wetted shade, and the punkah’s lazy breeze.
I got so caught up in work I didn’t know when the sun went down and when it became dark. I looked out the window and it seemed the clouds had appeared from nowhere, with the air smelling heavily of black.
“It’s going to rain,” I muttered to the coolie who still tugged at the punkah’s string with his big toe though he was fast asleep. I walked out and saw a few perplexed brown clerks staring at the sky above, looking for the clouds that weren’t there: just a black pall shrouding the firmamentv not a tear of rain on the fevered skin. The sun was a black disk like the underside of a stovetop kettle. I wondered if it had anything to do with me. I suddenly thought of Diane and a strange, speechless fear gripped me. I ordered for the motorcar to be placed.
As we rode home the pall lifted and the skies opened up once again. But soon the shade overtook us and moved overhead as we went down the sunlit street—a solitary black cloud following me in a bright world. I brought the darkness home and slamming the porch door, drew the curtains on it.
“Is it going to rain?” Diane, happy to see me early, began to open my shirt buttons. “My, you are so wet. You smell of the sea—and prison. Been out at the harbor again?”
“Work as usual,” I said, splashing myself down at the sink while she stood behind with a towel and a clean shirt.
After lunch and a long nap I walked out to the lawns where tea had been laid out. It was bright and sunny again, and the repose had cast aside the shadows that’d been haunting me.
“Weather’s been funny, playing tricks, isn’t it dear,” Diane commented as she poured out steaming cardamom tea.
“Damn tropics—none of the balmy English weather,” I said, and we laughed. Diane looked frail—she had been having a lot of sick spells lately. “You’ll have plenty on your hands once the baby arrives.”
“You think everything will be fine, David,” she asked, her brow clouding.
She’d had a miscarriage and I was worried silly. I noticed the blue tinge around the fingernails and the pallor in her baggy eyes were getting darker. “I’m sure, darling. Dr. Watson said so, didn’t he? You just take rest and watch your step—that’s all.”
“I don’t think I’ll be able to take another…”
I rose and placed a finger on her lips. “Shush…” I stood over her and caressed her neck and shoulders. She nestled her head against my thigh, gripping my hands. “I promise my dear,” I said, raising her face up toward me and looking into her eyes, “with all the power, love, and faith dear god has vested in me—I will make it right this time.”
Diane smiled, a tear clung to the brim of her eye, and she kissed my hands gratefully, and crossed herself. “I believe—I believe in you first, and in dear god above next.”
To be continued